This post may contain affiliate links. Read the full disclosure here.
I want to preempt this article by making sure that everyone’s clear that it can take a long time to build trust with a rabbit. They’re prey animals. They have no idea what your intentions are.
Some rabbits trust freely. I fostered a rex once that had no fear of anything. She’d been living in my local cemetary and apparently terrorising the vicar’s labradoodle. She didn’t seem to have fear of anything, and was sitting by us on the sofa the day we brought her home.
In my experience, she’s RARE. She also loves kids, even when they’re running and screaming. I have my doubts that she’s a rabbit at all.
In contrast some rabbits are extremely timid and it can take MONTHS for them to stop running away when you bring them food. As long as you’re not trying to rush them, this isn’t a reflection on you as a bunny caregiver. That’s just how some of them are.
You may never be able to convince your rabbit to cuddle up to you, but you can reassure them that you won’t hurt them, but it can take time.
Why it’s important that your bunny trusts you
By trust, I just mean that it’s important that your rabbit isn’t completely terrified of you. Terror causes a significant amount of stress, and extended periods of stress can have dire effects on the health of most animals.
You rabbit will have a far more enjoyable life if they trust you, and you’ll be rewarded with exhibitions of binkies and the like, which is totally worth the time it can take.
Make sure your rabbit has a safe space to retreat to
This is really important. You don’t need to get a soft bed for them (all but one of mine just pee indiscriminately on them), but make sure they have a little corner where no one else can get.
If you have kids or other pets, teach them not to bug the bunny when they’re in their safe space.
My rabbits have an old glass counter to retreat to (it also serves as a TV cabinet). They don’t spend much time there anymore, but if something scary is happening (vaccuuming/a dogs barking/ a pigeon cooing down the chimney) they go in there and wait out the storm.
I try not to go in there at all. If they need to go to the vets I block it up rather than go in and grab them. It’s also best if you put some treats in the carry case and hope they hop in by themselves.
Don’t insist in picking your bunny up
I’ve never had a rabbit that liked to be picked up. Even the extremely friendly rex would fight and kick if someone picked her up.
It makes sense if you think about it – in the wild, rabbits would only be picked up by nefarious individuals. If you have predators like birds of prey then the sensation of being lifted of the ground must be terrifying.
I don’t like to make my rabbits feel restrained at all, unless we’re at the vets and it’s necessary for their own safety. It’s scary for anyone to have to have their movement constricted, so I avoid restraining my rabbits as much as I can.
Be quiet around your rabbit
Approach your bunny in a non-threatening way
i.e. don’t approach them. All bu the most timid bunnies are suer nosy. If you sit on the floor near them and distract yourself by watching TV or something, sooner or later, it’s inevitable that they’ll come over for a sniff.
Try not to react. If you go to stroke them the first time they approach, you can spook them. Just sit there and let them sniff you.
Get your rabbit to trust you by giving them treats
The way to a rabbit’s heart is truly through their belly. You can try the sitting quietly strategy, but with added treats on your knees as an incentive.
I’ve found that repeat behaviour helps with rabbit training, so try using treats you can give in some volume, rather than high sugar treats like banana. Save those for rewards for bigger things, like nail clipping and vet visits.
Pellets are always welcomed, but you could try individual coriander/cilantro leaves too.
How long does it take to get your bunny to trust you?
It varies a lot depending on the bunny. If your bunny is over a year old, and has suffered from neglect or trauma previously, it can take months.
It actually took a few years for my Dutch rabbit George to trust us. Him and his partner were 18 months when they came to us, and had been neglected. She was quick to trust us, but he was very over protective and couldn’t seem to let his guard down.
The thing is, it doesn’t actually matter to me how long it takes. As long as George was safe and well-cared for, I knew he would eventually learn to trust us, as long as we kept up with the treats, but basically left him alone.
Sure enough, he came round. He was never one to ask for attention, but he became comfortable with laying sprawled out on the living room floor and not flinching when we moved.
When he got old and confused, he didn’t mind us gently pointing him in the direction on his food bowl, and actually nudged us to rub his ears.
But yeah, for the first five years we had to basically pretend we didn’t exist. His mate used to come over for pets and he’d clean her super thoroughly afterwards, which is kind of offensive, but I get it. It was worth it in the end though!
Final thoughts on gaining a bunny’s trust
We can all get frustrated when our pets don’t behaviour in the way we want them to, but we need to remember that they’re not here to provide us with some sort of service. They don’t owe us anything.
To be honest, there aren’t many pets you could have that are guaranteed to be cuddly. Most humans aren’t that cuddly, if we’re being honest.
If you leave your rabbit alone, but make yourself available (sit near them, but don’t try to bug them) you will slowly gain their trust.
It can be hard. One of my rabbits was so aggressive sitting on the floor wasn’t an option. She would attack; I assume because she felt threatened. Instead I used to spend hours sitting on a stool next to her pen and stroking the tiny portion of her face that she liked.
Gradually, we got used to each other, and learned how to treat each other respectfully. She learned that I’d let her chase me if she didn’t bite me. And I learned that it was the chasing part she enjoyed – the biting was just a fun part she tagged on the end that thankfully she dropped.